We discovered on a recent hike that rattlesnakes are out in full force in Los Angeles this season. On a usually tranquil path in Temescal Canyon, a fellow hiker announced, “There’s a mad rattlesnake at the end of this trail.” More passing hikers described the snake and its rattle and provided details: the snake was at the bottom of the trail, near the creek, under a tree. A young man of about 18 displayed a digital photograph of a plump snake. A French woman reported that another man had moved the snake off the trail with a stick, which made us nervous rather than reassured, as all of the information we had learned about the snake’s location was now useless. Finally we were thwarted, not by the snake, but by a swarm of bees in a patch of five-foot-tall yellow flowers – the chance of getting stung en route to encounter a poisonous snake convinced us that it was time to turn around. On the way back up, the young man with the camera and his friend reported another rattlesnake at the top of the ridge. We proceeded with caution, on the assumption that if there was a rattlesnake at the bottom of the trail and a rattlesnake at the top, there could be a hidden rattlesnake anywhere in the middle.
We emerged unscathed but puzzled – we have hiked this trail at this time of year for years and never seen or heard of a snake, though we knew they are part of the normal wildlife in the area. Research confirmed that there are more rattlesnakes about this year than usual. All the rain this winter and the recent mix of drizzle and sun created a damp, warm environment that entices rattlesnakes to breed. The rain also caused a profusion of plants. The long branches and fragrant thickets of yellow, orange, and purple flowers flow over the edges of the trails and can hide many creatures that may be lurking along the edges.
We know of two dogs that have been bitten by rattlesnakes in the past few months. One dog died; the other survived after $2,000 in veterinary treatments. Most humans survive rattlesnake bites as long as they go to the hospital immediately.